Up & Coming By Dayna Engberg

Born Free

Elsa’s Kopje at Meru National Park is Kenya’s ultimate peaceful sanctuary. It hasn’t always been that way.


The saga started in the 1960s, when some intrepid travelers began visiting an uncharted area of remote, lush plains straddling the equator. Bisected by over a dozen rivers and mountain-fed streams, the Meru Conservation Area was a literal oasis of tall grasses and wild marshland hidden within the barren, arid landscapes so typical for central Kenya. A short jaunt east of Mount Kenya National Park, the location was a rare off-grid escape that was also accessible — at least by east African standards — to independent explorers. Its impending celebrity was written in the stars. With unspoiled landscapes, abundant wildlife and coordinates reserved for in-the-know explorers, it was an insider safari secret perfectly positioned to appeal to the blossoming hippie movement of the time.

This set the scene for what would become Meru’s ultimate claim to fame: Born Free, the Academy Award-winning story of Joy and George Adamson, the real-life couple who fostered an orphaned lion cub named Elsa, raised her and released her back into the wild. The 1966 screenplay starring Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers was an instant hit. Tourism in Meru exploded … but without any federal protections, so did poaching. The Adamsons pushed for formal protections of the Meru Conservation Area for three decades until 1989, when George himself was killed by a gang of Somali Shifta — roaming bands of tribesmen thought to be responsible for the majority of animal poaching in Kenya at the time.

Elsa's Kopje safari

So moved by the story, the film’s starring actress assumed his fight, forming the Born Free Foundation and, in partnership with Kenya’s Director of Wildlife Service, established one of the first lodges in the Meru Conservation Area: Elsa’s Kopje. Perched atop one of the highest points of the park, its sweeping open-air design and panoramic verandas offer 360-degree views of what makes this park so special. Vast herds of elephants, buffalos, giraffes are just a few of the over 500 animal species that roam the plains below. Rivers abound with hippos and crocodiles. Nightfall reveals a blanket of stars overhead, while sunrise is marked by the symphony of over 280 native species of birds.

Winner of the Good Safari Guide’s “Best Safari Property in Africa” award, Elsa’s Kopje is widely renowned as one of the most elegant environmental lodges in Africa. Its opening is lauded for rescuing this treasure trove of biodiversity from extinction, as it wasn’t until 2005 that the area was finally designated Meru National Park. Having hosted celebrity conservationists such as Sir David Attenborough and the wildlife documentary crew at the BBC, the boutique lodge now tops the bucket lists of safari enthusiasts and serenity seekers alike. With a history stranger than fiction and a prime location found no place else in the world, Elsa’s Kopje is, by definition, truly extraordinary.


Elsa's Kopje honeymoon suite sitting room

Through SELECT Hotels & Resorts, you’ll receive unique amenities and VIP-worthy privileges to enhance nearly every moment of your Kenyan adventure, including sundowners for two or cocktails and canapes in the park, complimentary à-la-carte breakfast for two daily and more, only when you book Elewana Collection: Elewana Elsa's Kopje Meru through our agency.